Life Lessons For Effective Living (Happy New Year)
In January every year, most of us engage in the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. More often than not, these resolutions are all about self-improvement: lose weight, quit smoking, be a better parent, read more books. The list could go on and on. Unfortunately, failure almost always comes hand-in-hand with these well-intentioned commitments. In fact, most statistical studies reveal that somewhere between eighty and ninety percent of people fail at their resolutions each year, which is quite staggering considering that these are improvements we should want to make for our general happiness and personal progress.
I believe this dissonance reveals a disconnect between the resolve we make in our minds and the core convictions of our hearts. The truth is that – beyond any resolution we may make in life – we all have convictions that define who we are, and the proof of these convictions is most often found in our long-term action patterns. Therefore, if we desire to be effective in life and fulfill our potential for improvement and impact, we need to take a close look at these convictions. In this way we will actually be able to achieve the resolutions we make, as they will be in tune with our motivating convictions.
Coming out of the recent Christmas season, I have often found myself thinking about Mary’s response to the incredible news that she would be a virgin mother to the long-awaited Messiah. The way that she chose to respond to this confusing, and in some ways devastating, news revealed much about her core convictions. By understanding the content of her convictions, we can grow in our understanding of how to move forward through life’s challenges effectively.
There are three outstanding qualities that I immediately recognize in Mary’s response to the angel’s news about her pregnancy, and I believe they can guide us as we work to recalibrate our core convictions. First, Mary rejoiced in this startling news. She was able to see beyond her expectations and find joy, because she had properly prioritized the things that matter most. She had every reason to be fearful or angry, but Mary chose lean into the opportunity for joy instead. If Mary had merely resolved to be a more joyful person, but had not transformed the attitude of her heart, her rejoicing would have been hard won. However, since the conviction to operate in joy permeated every fiber of her being, her natural and immediate response was great rejoicing. Mary valued joy above fleeting emotional responses.
Second, Mary recognized who she was – a “humble bond slave.” In her genuine humility, she realized her place compared to the almighty God, and considered herself a willing servant. There is nothing more important in life than acknowledging who you truly are. If we can get our identity correct, then we do not have to be set back by where we’ve been in the past, but can walk confidently as God leads us forward. We must remember not to find our identity in our past circumstances, whether good or bad. When we recognize who we are apart from the past, we can move forward and into the future. There is a powerful phrase that says, “Don’t look back; you’re not going that way.” That’s exactly what Mary did! Her life had suddenly become confusing, complicated, and scary, but she kept focused on her identity in relation to God and moved forward in the light of His promise for her future.
Third, we see that Mary understood God’s character. God’s ways are amazing and miraculous, and being able to recognize His goodness in all things is a powerful conviction. If we are able believe in God’s proven character in all circumstances, it will most certainly shape the way we are able to live effectively. For example, in 1977 I married my beautiful wife, and we were greatly anticipating having children. We spent five years being told by every doctor we encountered that it was impossible for us to have children. We were heartbroken and confused, but ultimately chose to trust in God for something bigger. On Christmas in 1982, our first child was finally born into this world, and we had a choice to make. We could choose to focus on our five years of suffering, or we could rejoice in the miracle of God’s faithfulness. Because we had set the conviction years prior that we would trust God’s good character, the answer was easy!
So, this year as we set out to achieve our New Year’s resolutions for 2017, let’s take a moment to reflect back on the Christmas story and Mary’s response. I believe we will find great guidance in the display of her core convictions: joy in any circumstance; security in her identity; confidence in God’s good character. Let’s use this as an opportunity to evaluate our own hearts, transform our convictions, and sow into success instead of failure.